Have you been taken by a particular dish as a result of its description alone, although you’ve never actually seen it and can only imagine how good it must smell and how delicious it must taste? This happens to me quite often, and more often than not with desserts. Call it the match.com of recipe plus hungry food geek! I have 3 madeleine pans that I have only used a few times, simply because I am enchanted by the shell-shaped cakes and love the back story about how they were made famous via Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. (Nevermind that I have never read, and may never read, that several-volume book by Proust. Though we do have a lovely modern library edition on our shelf, giving the impression that we are des gens tres profonds…)
Canelés (or cannelés) hold a similar fascination for me. There’s no grand literary tale behind canelés that I am aware of (though apparently they occasioned a “war” with pastry chefs in the 1700s) . However, they are similarly beautiful, and are known as much by their special shape as anything else. Ideally, they have a deep, coffee-brown exterior that is formed as the sugar caramelizes in the deep wells of the molds while the center slowly cooks to creamy, custardy perfection. Traditionally, they are baked in copper molds (just as beautiful as the little cakes themselves) which only adds to their charms.
I am not sure where I first heard of these. Perhaps I saw them in Pastries from the La Brea Pastry , perhaps via one the food blogs I so regularly peruse (Chocolate and Zucchini? 101 cookbooks?) surfing the web. I do know that I first tasted them thanks to Maitre Pierre (aka, Trader Joe’s) and decided if they were that good in the mass-produced incarnation, they definitely were worth the investment of a few pieces of specialty kitchenware.
In the end, I opted for silicone molds as you can buy three molds (that make 8 cannelés each) for about the price of one copper mold. Copper is far and away more pleasing to the eye, but cost-wise, I’m going for the cubic zirconia here. (Copper tins have to be filled with beeswax to prevent them from sticking, an extra step I also didn’t think I’d miss–and where would I get beeswax anyway?) I found mine at Bridge Kitchenware which is a great site for professional grade cookware of all sorts. It’s not some sumptuous feast for the eyes like Williams Sonoma; but instead you get a great selection at fantastic prices–and you pride yourself on being “in the know” as it’s apparently where the pros go!
The good news is that, once you have your special equipment in hand, canelés are remarkably simple to make. They take a long time, but very little of that time is any work (unless waiting for them to be ready is hard–and that’s a defensible position).
So what’s going on? The batter is prepared 24 hours in advance of when you plan to bake. Some recipes call for lots of egg yolks, some a more modest amount (use any whites to make financiers to tide you over until your cannelés are ready). My batter, despite diligently sifting the flour, was quite lumpy and I resisted the urge to over-stir. I wasn’t sure if this was like pancake batter where the result would be a tough cake, and was hopeful that the little blobs would dissolve away overnight (FYI, no such luck).
Following the instructions in Stephane Reynaud’s French Feasts (which seems to have a recipe for every famous French dish you could name, plus Reynaud’s unique sense of humor and illustrations–and French sheet music), I filled my molds only 2/3 full. Reynaud’s recipe yields 50 cannelés, so I cut the recipe in half. I eventually figured out that Reynaud’s cannelés molds must be MUCH smaller than mine as well, as I eventually got only 14. (My mold holds 8 at a time).
The timing seems to be the tricky part on cannelés. For example, these look done. But you can’t really see if the actual crust has browned enough. My recipe suggested 30-45 minutes, and I ended up baking them an hour.
Easy to make, but definitely requiring a lot of patience. More than I had, apparently: after a little post-hoc research, I have come to the conclusion I should have baked my cannelés for up to an hour and a half! You can see mine only just began to caramelize, but that the ideal cannelé is entirely rich chocolately brown.
We still enjoyed them. The center was warm, creamy, and rich with vanilla flavor laced with rum. The crust was so smooth it practically reflected light, and full of that caramel aroma I love (if only gently so, given it did not have enough time to fully “reach its potential”!)
Hm. I guess I will just have to try it again to get it right!
Canneles de Bordeaux (adapted from “French Feasts“)
- 2c milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2 1/2 T butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/4c flour
- 1 1/8c sugar
- 1/4c rumPour the milk into a small saucepan, add the vanilla bean and butter and heat until the butter melts. Remove the vanilla bean. While whisking vigorously, add the beaten yolks in a thin stream. Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together into the milk and egg mixture, whisking to incorporate. Stir in the rum.Chill for 24 hours.Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill silicone molds to nearly full with batter, set on top of a baking sheet, and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Check for doneness by examining the exterior of a cake; quickly re-insert and put back in the oven to bake longer if not properly caramelized). Unmold promptly after removing from oven.